Dee Chadwick
23 Feb 2020
Do you find it hard to give the impression of an outward calmness – just like the swan in the picture, no matter what is going on around you with family, work, life. That essential paddling under the water remaining hidden from view.


I have always had a love of birds, probably following the lead set by my father. I loved to see his paintings of them. I loved convincing children that their knees were the opposite of ours. I love to simply watch them coming and going in my garden – whether squabbling around the feeder or popping in and out of the bird houses. There have been times that I have envied them.

One such time was when I lived in a small hamlet in South Wales. I was very pregnant with my second son, did not always have access to a car, and buses were very infrequent. I was in need of some basic groceries, so a walk to the next village was involved. The walk, or probably I should say waddle, began very pleasantly with me sharing what I could see around us with my son in his push chair. We stopped to look at a pair of swans and my contractions began. It was at that moment that I envied, but also took inspiration from the calm, rather stately progress of those swans. I relaxed and breathed – then assured myself that the contractions were simply strong Braxton Hicks rather than the real thing. My body was still rehearsing rather than in it’s final production stage of birthing. I sped up the rate of waddling, grabbed what I needed from the shop and returned home. Note to self being not to panic, not to let the store cupboard become depleted of essentials and to keep thinking of those swans!

Of course their existence is far from constantly calm. They too have to consider nest building. They also have to fight the vagaries of abandoned fishing lines which easily become entangled round legs and feet, or hooks that can damage plumage and beaks. These days they also have to contend with the flotsam and jetsam of the seemingly ever-present plastics abandoned by we humans. However, the mental image of them gliding seemingly effortlessly carried me through what turned out to be only a few remaining days of my pregnancy.


Do you give the appearance of being outwardly in control whilst under that water you are paddling away?

Maybe the paddling is gentle, acting to simply keep you afloat whilst you go through the motions of day to day activities of which you feel yourself to be in control? Or is the sedate paddling through a boredom with what is going on in your life leading to there being no necessity, no inclination to push forwards.  

Is your paddling is more speedy, moving you forward through a busy schedule of places to go and people to see. Then again, is it rather frenetic, in order to stop you going under when you are feeling a need to, at the very least, pause for breath, if not to exit stage left from your current situation, way of being? To be able to further emulate that swan and fly off into the wide blue yonder away from any idea of paddling. Instead you paddle ever harder to prevent you from going under. Under a pile of work, commitments, emotions?

I feel that some of us are more like a good old worker bee – we busily buzz around so that everyone nearby is well aware of the amount of effort that goes into everything that we do. We have been known to throw in an occasional sting for good measure too. A dig or a barbed comment maybe. This concept very much reminds me of my son. He is good with DIY, and has helped me out on more than one occasion. However, he always accompanies any DIY-ing with much mumbling and far from a few swear words thrown in for good measure. But, he gets the job done – and you certainly know that he’s doing it! On one visit, he helped me replace a few sheets of poly-carbon in my greenhouse. Yes, he mumbled, out loud, under his breath, at me, at my poor tools - but he also commented that I was ahead of him when it came to help and support and knew what was going on. I knew what was needed and had it ready before he asked. From him, that really was praise!! I didn’t remind him that I usually do the DIY when he isn’t around, and have done so since before he was born. Discretion ruled – and I wanted the job finishing!


It’s always a good thing to remember this. That outward swan could be far from calm inside. Are you judging someone by what they are letting you see, what is presented to the world around them? It’s not simply a matter of what they are having to cope with at work if you are a colleague; what they share with you if you are a friend. There could be things that they are not sharing with you for a whole variety of reasons. Things calling for that faster paddling which is draining of energy and emotions. That calm exterior may exhibit cracks via sharp responses, an unwillingness to join in with light hearted chat or banter. Check out their ok-ness and ensure that they know that you are there if they want to chat if anything is bothering them. Then just be that colleague or that friend by simply being there and not adding to the pressure.


It’s great to be able to produce a meal or a party for family and friends with that outward air of calmness, of being totally in control. This feeling, however, is the result of a huge amount of previously carried out paddling during the shopping and preparation stage of the event. I have been there and done this for many such events and was happy to do so.

However, I feel that there are times that we actually need to let people know just how much paddling is going on under our particular patch of water. Times when we could do with help, support, yet for whatever reason don’t ask for it. This could be down to pride, stubbornness, a feeling that others should know that you are working so hard and therefore offer to help without a prod in the ribs from you to do so. In fact, if you are appearing to be swan-like, chances are that others think that all is well and simply let you get on. Maybe you rejected previous offers of help with an ‘I’m fine thanks’? Sometimes we really can be our own worst enemy, and I admit that I always really appreciated it when a friend automatically came into the kitchen to put left overs into tubs, load the dish washer between courses and when we had finished. No request made or offer to help – simply good old friendship.

At times, that paddling may not be for an event, a work happening, rather it’s an emotional paddling to stop someone going glug. It’s a front, a mask, a plastic swan. Despite outward appearances probably a great need for support – or one of those genuine friendships.

What of those younger members of our families? If your default setting is as a swan, do they actually realise what goes on in your household to keep it running smoothly? To have meals magically materialise. For the dirty clothes to be magically whisked up and away to return clean and pressed? They need to know that these activities require a lot of paddling. It would help you in the here and now, and them in the future if they too joined in with some of the paddling. The sooner that they learn that there is no washing fairy, or a magic wand to prepare the food the better. I accept that the help of little fingers can slow down the process at a time when you feel that you are under time pressures, but it really does pay long-term dividends.

Let those teenagers be aware of just how much work goes into what they can take so much for granted, though you will have to get them away from their phones/tablets for this to happen. This is a plus as far as I am concerned, with such as family phone free times adding to family life.


I believe that life would be boring if we appeared cool, calm and collected all of the time. At times, we may just automatically slip into swan mode if we are comfortable with who and what we are. We aren’t using it as a front. Sorry, I can’t resist – you could well have taken to what you are doing as a duck takes to water.

For all of us, life throws brick bats or even huge piles of angst and unhappiness; problems in many guises straight at us, full strength. How we deal with this can change the person that we are for good or ill. Most of us come out the other end wiser, more aware. When the time is right for us we are ready to get back to paddling – maybe in a different direction, tentatively at first. Some of us even feel like a different person. I know that life’s happenings changed me, and the direction my life has taken. I sincerely hope that I am still the caring person that I have always endeavoured to be, but I certainly stand up for myself more and don’t allow myself to be taken advantage of as has occurred in the past.

At the same time, I allow people to see if the paddling is getting a bit much for me and take a time out to go with the flow in ‘me’ time. I do still find it hard though to actively seek out help – apart from with the heavy work in the garden that is.

Yes, I now go about my daily life at a slightly more sedate pace, not difficult when I used to work long days and weeks. But I still have aims to achieve, projects to carry out, places to see, people to spend quality time with. If I can now have these as my paddling under the water of my life, I feel that the job’s a good ‘un.

However, there are times when I prefer to be like one of the house sparrows who regularly visit one of my bird baths in summer to splish and splash around and simply enjoy life – no holds barred. We all need to let go, let our hair down, let the world know that we matter. Life is for living, so we need to grab those opportunities for doing just what makes us happy. At the same time, reflect on and celebrate achievements be they large or small, be they widely know or known only to you. Recall the mountains you have climbed – be they physical or metaphorical. Recognise the obstacles that you have overcome. Respect yourself for all of these and don’t give up on adding to your list.

On reflection, rather than mimicking those sparrows, maybe a hot tub with a great companion and a couple of glasses of Prosecco would be equally, if not even more tempting. You can’t blame a girl for trying can you.

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